I am sensing some tension between my advisor and I, now that I am in the last year and finishing my dissertation. Communication seems to take forever and short almost ambiguous feedback. We used to talk frequently, but lately things seem strained. What can I do to repair the relationship?


Dear Worried,

Thank you for asking this question because communication with your advisor is one of the most important elements of a successful graduate career, but it’s also one of the most ignored. In this time of your graduate career, a major thing you’ll have to remember is the amount of stress that you and your advisor are experiencing.

Here are a few things that I hope will bring new perspective to your situation:

Put yourself in your advisor’s shoes.

I know, I know. We’ve all heard this statement more than we probably want to. But it will help you figure out why your advisor isn’t responding with detailed, frequent emails. How many projects does your advisor have going on all at once? How many classes is he/she teaching? What kinds of issues might be going on at home? These are the questions you need to ask yourself so that you can gain a different perspective for the situation.

Looking again at things that advisors are juggling will help students understand why they might not be responding in a timely manner. Try to be patient and give your advisor a little more time to respond to you, and then email a friendly reminder that you are waiting for a reply from them.

Try not to take things personally.

As I said before, you and your advisor are in crunch time and are stressed — now, more than ever — because of how close you are to completing your dissertation. You have been working toward this goal for a number of years now, and your time with your advisor probably seems tense because of the pressure to complete your dissertation.

Imagine other situations in which you or friends were stressed about completing a project or were put under pressure in some way. You probably weren’t in the best of moods when talking with others about that particular situation (or when talking with others about anything, for that matter). You and your advisor could be experiencing this same issue. When you talk about your dissertation together, you both might be under so much stress and pressure that you’re unsure of how to communicate effectively.

Understand that your advisor might purposefully be pulling away.

Because you’re finding yourself at the end of your dissertation road, your advisor could be creating a small distance between you two because he/she might want you to finish your dissertation more on your own and take ownership of your project.

From what you wrote about the relationship that you’ve had with your advisor up to this point, it seems that your advisor has provided you with almost everything you need. Your advisor could be using this time to help push you into independence. You’ve depended on your advisor to help you with your dissertation up to this point, but it might be time to take it into your own hands and make a finished product.

This list shows you different ways that you can look at this situation with your advisor. I hope they help bring a new perspective, but I understand that they don’t necessarily give you tips on how to make your relationship with your advisor better. You asked me how to repair the relationship, but I don’t think that the relationship is broken. You mentioned that it does seem strained, but there are ways to alleviate this tension.

For instance, try to bring an air of less pressure. I understand this can be hard because it’s your dissertation and like a child to you, but if your advisor sees less stress and pressure in your eyes, he/she will begin to mirror that. Show your advisor a more patient attitude and a forgiving countenance when you two have a meeting.

Depending on how you think your advisor will take this, you might even try to gently bring up the subject. Just ask a few different questions about how he or she is doing and how you can help alleviate some stresses. Again, this tip will only go well if you feel that your advisor can answer your questions and take no offense.

I hope that these tips helped. A lot of what you might have to do in this situation will have to happen on the inside; you’ll have to take a few steps back and look at the issue in a few different ways. Examine the issue from a few different angles, and you should be able to go from there. Then, you can decide if you should approach your advisor or just provide a less stressed and more patient attitude.

--René Paulson, PhD

  • Working on dissertation +

    What is the length of Chapter 1 (how many pages?) On a qualitative study, do I need to address validity and reliability? How about credibility and transferability (remember...qualitative). On terms, should I have a scholarly citation for EVERY term? – Working on dissertation Dear Working on dissertation, The length of chapter 1 depends on your specific university requirements for the contents of chapter 1, and can also depend on your dissertation Read More
  • Online Data Tools +

    I am looking for a secure data collection tool online to engage in email interviews. Thanks. – Online Data Tools Dear Online Data Tools, Picking the correct data collection tool is often dependent on the design and needs of your survey. While the commonly used data tools like SurveyMonkey, SurveyGizmo, PsychData, and Qualtrics all support basic question formats (single select, free response, matrixes, etc.), they differ in their download capabilities, easiness Read More
  • In Need of Financial Support +

    I was wondering if anyone can help me – well, direct me. I have had a lot of health-related and disability-related problems that got ignored during my last few years of my PhD. Now I have managed to get an extension for 6 months full-time to finish writing. I had asked part-time due to my disabilities – also to work, as my stipend stopped. However, am getting no guidance from either the Read More
  • Phd Victim +

    Hello, I am in my second year of PhD but technically have been working on my project for just one year. Before moving abroad for my PhD, I was supposed to join a particular lab, but after moving I realized that the project I was told I would join had been discontinued. Left with not many options to choose from, I decided to join another lab. My professor seemed very Read More
  • Capstone or Thesis? +

    I am in a terminal Master’s program in counselor’s education with the goal of being a school guidance counselor. My career goal has always been to work with high schoolers, especially those at-risk. For now, a Master’s is all I can manage due to time, money, and my sanity, but I would eventually like to go back and get a PhD in School Psychology. My program requires a capstone project, Read More
  • Committee A-Go-Go +

    I have a committee member that I have had numerous problems with over the course of my dissertation. He has been very difficult to work with and doesn’t return emails, his feedback is short and unclear (and late), and he won’t make time to meet with me to clarify what he is wanting. I have talked to my chair and he has had the same experience with this person across Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8

Submit a Question

By submitting this form, you accept our privacy policy.